The Daily W, 06/08/2014

 

Indiana Fever 71 @ Connecticut Sun 88

 

Lineups: Tamika Catchings was still back in Indiana, but Briann January returned from her ankle injury and Shavonte Zellous’s knee issue from the previous night wasn’t serious enough to keep her out. So Indiana’s lineup looked the same as it has for most of the season. Connecticut started the same group as in recent outings.

 

Story of the Game: A desperately scrappy first half was largely brightened up by the performance of Sun point guard Alex Bentley. Her gunning from the perimeter gave the Sun the offense they needed and carried them into the lead. Katie Douglas also did a better job of attacking off the dribble rather than settling for outside jumpers (very few of which have been dropping for her this season).

The box score told you at halftime that the Fever had shot 58% from the field in the opening 20 minutes, but it certainly hadn’t felt like it. The reason for that was turnovers, which had flooded the Fever’s performance and constantly broken up any flow they might’ve developed. They had 17 turnovers in the first half alone, struggling to handle any pressure Connecticut exerted on the perimeter, or keep hold of the ball inside when surrounded by collapsing defenders.

Indiana looked like they might make a game of it a couple of times in the second half, with rookie forward Natasha Howard crashing the glass and finishing putbacks, then backup post Lynetta Kizer hitting several shots when Howard picked up her fifth foul and had to sit. But Connecticut always had an answer, through Bentley, or Chiney Ogwumike inside, or a nice little run from Chiney’s fellow rookie Alyssa Thomas. Out running the break, Thomas is a lot of fun to watch, and hopefully we see more of that as she settles in as a pro. But she’s also a strong, athletic finisher inside, and a useful rebounder from the small forward spot. She hasn’t exploded onto the scene quite like some of this year’s rookies, but give her time.

The Sun eventually held on without too much trouble in the final period, and on the second half of a back-to-back Indiana didn’t have the energy or the drive to sustain a comeback. Although they at least took slightly better care of the ball in the second half.

 

Key Players: Bentley was the catalyst for almost everything good that happened for the Sun, and now that Anne Donovan seems to have settled on her at the point and Renee Montgomery as the regular backup, it should help both of them. Players are always more comfortable when they know their spot in the rotation, even if there’s some flexibility depending on who plays well on a given night. It was also a good sign for Connecticut that they managed to put a decent performance together despite Ogwumike being in foul trouble early on, forcing other players to step up. Kelsey Griffin made some hustle plays coming in for her off the bench, several players drew contact for all the fouls the officials wanted to call, and they came away with a solid win.

Rarely will you shoot 53% from the floor and lose a game by 17 points, but that’s what Indiana managed. All those turnovers killed them, and while it was partly how the referees called the game, all the fouls were partly down to tired players reaching rather than playing proper defense. But the Fever will settle for 1-1 on their weekend Eastern road trip.

 

—–

 

Chicago Sky 59 @ Atlanta Dream 97

 

Lineups: Same again for both teams. Chicago had Epiphanny Prince in uniform again, ready to finally make her debut this season. Atlanta continue to start Jasmine Thomas at the point, with Celine Dumerc and Shoni Schimmel snapping at her heels from the bench.

 

Story of the Game: Chicago got run off their own floor by Los Angeles the night before, and Pokey Chatman would’ve been hoping for a response from her team. She didn’t get one, unless an even more dramatic capitulation counts as a response.

The Dream dominated virtually every area of the floor in the first half, most conspicuously on the offensive boards where they repeatedly gave themselves extra looks, resulting in 15 second-chance points by halftime. Bizarrely for Atlanta, they also shot remarkably well from the perimeter, with midrange jumpers falling and going 5-8 from beyond the arc in the first half. Angel McCoughtry was 3-3 from outside, while also attacking in transition with any chance she got. Atlanta were the aggressive team, forcing the action and taking the game away from Chicago.

The Sky struggled at both ends of the floor, with Jessica Breland’s mid-range jumper the only reliable offensive weapon they had. McCoughtry took on the challenge of defending the opponent’s key player for once, and Elena Delle Donne had problems finding good looks under the attention of McCoughtry and plenty of help. With only Breland and Allie Quigley offering any support, the Sky offense stalled out badly. It’s been an ugly couple of days for point guard Courtney Vandersloot, who was harried into mistakes by the length of Alana Beard against LA, and had trouble against Jasmine Thomas in this one. Teams are starting to realise that if they can pressure her into mistakes and make it difficult for her to initiate anything for Chicago, it slows everything down for the Sky. With only really Delle Donne to worry about elsewhere on the floor, they can focus plenty of attention on stopping Vandersloot as well. Chicago ended up with a lot of possessions in this game where someone just tried to create on their own, and they don’t have enough players right now who can do that effectively.

McCoughtry, Sancho Lyttle and Erika de Souza did the bulk of the scoring for Atlanta, but it was a team effort that led to a huge 25-point lead at halftime. It was never a contest in the second half, which was largely just an opportunity for players like Prince, Dumerc and Swin Cash to get much-needed minutes on the floor for their respective teams.

 

Key Players: The players already mentioned set the tone for Atlanta’s dominating performance. Shoni Schimmel also had some nice passes (and one or two that went sailing out of bounds) and has developed impressive chemistry with de Souza already. Dumerc had plenty of fun in the second half, and the crowd are going to love her almost as much as they love Schimmel once she settles in.

Chicago were poor all around, and will want to forget this whole weekend. At least Prince made her first appearance, and looked pretty ready to play.

 

Notes of Interest: Sylvia Fowles is expected to start 5-on-0 practices as the next stage in her rehab from hip surgery next week. After the 5-1 start, Chicago were starting to think they didn’t need her to rush back. After the last two losses, they’re probably not quite so sure.

 

—–

 

Phoenix Mercury 91 @ San Antonio Stars 79 (2OT)

 

Lineups: As normal for both teams. The only change to the available players for either side was that San Antonio’s Shenise Johnson had reaggravated her hamstring injury in the few minutes she played on Thursday night in New York, and was back in street clothes.

 

Story of the Game: The first half was tight, featuring lots of lead changes and never more than five points between the teams. After the debacle in Tulsa the night before, Phoenix’s defense looked a little more organised and focussed, although the style of their opponent may have helped. Dan Hughes is a smart coach who knows how to attack an opponent’s weaknesses, but the Stars simply don’t have that many players who like to drive as their main form of attack. Danielle Robinson, and occasionally Kayla McBride, but that’s about it. Most of them would rather catch-and-shoot or pull up for jumpers. So San Antonio didn’t necessarily exploit the same holes that Tulsa sliced through on Friday.

But the Stars still made some plays, hit some threes, and stayed in the game. Phoenix had Candice Dupree stroking her mid-range jumper nicely and finding plenty of space to fire it. Both teams came up very short on several threes, which may have partly been down to playing on the Spurs’ floor rather than the Stars’ own surface. That meant the most visible three-point line was the NBA arc, rather than the added WNBA one, so at times the shooters may have been a little further out than they realised.

The first significant lead of the game came early in the second half, with several miscommunications and breakdowns from San Antonio helping Phoenix score the first 12 points of the third quarter. The Mercury were moving the ball well to find space and hitting their shots, but turnovers and errors from the Stars were making it too easy for them.

Anyone who’s watched this San Antonio team in the past and paid attention knew the defensive switch that Hughes was going to pull out to try to change momentum – it was just a matter of when. The 2-3 zone finally appeared with two minutes left in the third quarter, and the comeback began in earnest. Phoenix seemed to know what they were supposed to do against the zone, finding the gaps between the layers, and moving the ball from side to side to stretch it out and force the defenders to make tough rotations. But the Mercury couldn’t hit the shots that they were left with, which helped San Antonio begin their charge.

There were key sequences from two very different sources that helped as well. First there was the throwback to earlier years, with Becky Hammon and Sophia Young-Malcolm hooking up for three straight buckets to close the third quarter. They were nice feeds from Hammon, and even prettier finishes from Young-Malcolm, harkening back to when the Hammon/Young pick-and-roll was San Antonio’s go-to play whenever they needed a score. Then to start the fourth quarter, backup center Kayla Alexander had probably her best minutes in a San Antonio jersey, finishing plays at the rim, hitting a short jumper, and even troubling Brittney Griner with her length on the defensive end. The old and the new for San Antonio, within minutes of each other.

A 15-2 run for the Stars in the fourth quarter took them six points in front, with Phoenix playing a significant role in their own problems. Griner picked up her fifth foul with an unnecessary reach, before Taurasi picked up an offensive foul, a technical, and then two defensive fouls in the space of 42 seconds. Both the offensive foul and one of the defensive ones may have been harsh, but she begged for the tech by repeatedly slamming the ball, and clearly reached in for the latter defensive call. That was her fifth personal, and she joined Griner on the bench.

The eventual return of those stars helped Phoenix settle late in the fourth, as did the use of their own 2-3 zone, but they still trailed by four points with 15 seconds left in regulation. Amazingly they ran a set that looked designed for DeWanna Bonner, who’d barely hit a shot all night. Even more amazingly she hit nothing but net from well beyond the NBA line. Hammon made a pair at the line to put San Antonio back in front by three, before the Mercury repeated the trick. This time it was Taurasi, firing up a three to tie the game. With no timeouts remaining, San Antonio quickly moved the ball up the floor, and Kayla McBride drove hard to the basket. Her effort barely rimmed out, and Jayne Appel’s putback bounced away as well. Overtime.

There wasn’t much worth talking about in the first extra period. A bullet pass from Taurasi to Dupree under the rim led to a two-point lead for Phoenix, before a Jia Perkins drive drew a foul and her free throws tied it. Then Hammon missed two good looks at threes, before Taurasi missed one as well, and we were headed for another five minutes of action.

OT2 was all Mercury, with Dupree’s jumper leading the way, a nice finish by Bonner adding on, and then free throws sealing the deal. Phoenix were the team who’d played the previous night, but San Antonio looked to have tired more. They took too many jumpers, and couldn’t hit many of them. Phoenix also finally forced the Stars out of their zone, and by then the Mercury had the win sewn up.

 

Key Players: Dupree had one of those nights that leads to people calling her ‘smooth’, just repeatedly sliding into space and knocking down the open jumper. Griner went to work on the glass for once, finishing with 18 rebounds, while Taurasi made some big shots, despite nearly losing her head for the first time this season in the fourth quarter. It was interesting that Sandy Brondello went to Bonner for that huge shot in the closing seconds of regulation (assuming that was the intended design and not just what it broke out into). She’d been on the periphery of the game all night at both ends but stepped into that shot with confidence and made it. Then she added two solid finishes in the extra periods. Trusting her to make that big three might’ve been more about building her back up for the future and the rest of the season than this particular game. She’s been disappointingly quiet in far too many games this year, and this team needs more from her.

In the end, too many Stars shot poorly for them to pull out the win, although they came very, very close. As a team they were 28% from the field, which is awful, but they kept themselves alive with steals and trips to the free throw line. Hammon had an ugly shooting night, but was back in control of the ball and the offense more than we’d seen this season.

 

—–

 

Today’s Games

 

Washington @ New York, 3pm ET

Minnesota @ Los Angeles, 3.30pm ET

 

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